Events are back! Yes, trade shows and conferences have rebounded, and everyone I’ve talked with is thrilled to be attending events. Truly, it’s great to see people in person again.
But for every salesperson who is in their happy place, there’s a founder/CEO who feels like they go to events, it’s hard to meet people, and they don’t come back with a lot of leads. Is it an introvert versus extrovert thing? Salespeople tend to be extroverts, while lots of CEOs — especially of startups — tend to be introverts.
Maybe, but the “why” hardly matters. The bottom line is trade shows and conferences require investments of time, money, and energy, and everyone wants to see results.
Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a tool you could leverage to give yourself higher visibility at an event and attract attention without having to introduce yourself to dozens of strangers?
Meet the under-rated, slightly secret tool you’re looking for: LinkedIn. The platform already connects you with prospects, investors, employees, and other stakeholders. And used well, LinkedIn transforms your event experience.
I’m always active on LinkedIn before and during the event—as well as on the event app. Most people don’t do that, so it doesn’t take much to get attention:
- Other attendees see your name and business.
- Event organizers see you.
- Speakers and exhibitors see you.
People appreciate you talking about them and the event. It generates goodwill, and you gain visibility. All while you are safely sitting in your office.
When you get to the event, more people recognize you. You can interact with speakers, who are influential in the industry, and connect with them on LinkedIn. Just as I’m active on the event app during the event, I also post on LinkedIn each day. And I stay focused on the event and post about it on LinkedIn afterward, too. It’s all about building relationships, and that is always a good investment for the future.
Here’s the system I use for getting the maximum value out of any trade show or conference.
Before the Show
About a month before the trade show/conference, meet with your team and talk through what you want to accomplish. Ask these three questions and brainstorm for answers.
#1 Whom Do You Want to Meet?
Prospects, customers, and business partners, of course. Who else? Think deep and wide to develop a list. Who would make a big difference to your business?
- Editors, bloggers, and industry analysts
- Consultants and other influencers
- Prospective employees
#2 What Do You Want to Learn?
I like to pay attention to the issues people are talking about in their pre-conference conversations, as well as the session topics. What are the hot problems people are trying to solve? If everyone is talking about a topic and you can frame your product as a way to address it, more doors will open for you.
I also like to check out competitors — what they are talking about, what they are promoting, and how they are selling. You might be able to get some hints about the future direction of their products.
Do you have technical issues or situations with clients? Explore the exhibits and choose sessions with your clients in mind. You might be able to pick up solutions.
#3 What Do You Want to Test?
At a show, you can talk to a lot of people in a short period of time. This is a great place to see how people respond to a new marketing message or to test different ways to describe a new feature.
Think about decisions you have been debating internally for some time. Here’s your chance to get feedback from real people, so you can settle the issue.
For an introvert, thinking about each conversation as an experiment makes it easier to talk to people. It feels less like networking; you’re collecting data!
Even as you are working on these questions and planning for the show, start letting people know you are going — and inviting them to meet you there. Share posts from the organizers and add comments about why you think the event is valuable. If there is a hashtag for the event, use it in your posts.
Design a Plan
When you know what you want to accomplish, look at the opportunities you will have at the conference. Where can you encounter the people you want to meet, find the info, and run your tests?
- Vendor-sponsored events
- Shuttle buses
If you have more than one person attending, decide who will do what. You’ll get much better results if you split up. Even if you attend the same sessions, sit on opposite sides of the room, so you can meet more people.
Plan to get together once a day, so you can report on what you find. This makes each person accountable ― and it gives you a way to share your triumphs.
Do Your Research
Take the list of people you want to meet, and do a little research ahead of time. Glance at their website, scan their blog, check out their social media posts. This takes a little effort, but you will find out what they are currently interested in. And it will be much easier to start a conversation when you meet them.
AT THE SHOW
Work your plan but stay flexible. If an opportunity arises, take advantage of it.
At every session, introduce yourself to 4-6 people. I usually meet the people seated on either side of me, in front of me and behind me. Even if you are naturally an introvert, remind yourself of the type of people you want to meet and make the effort to reach out. You will be amazed at the interesting people you will find. If you’re not sure what to say, ask them what they hope to get out of this session or why they are at the conference.
At the end of the session, introduce yourself to one of the speakers. If you’re not sure what to say, just tell them you enjoyed the session. Even better, mention something specific they said that you agreed with or found useful. If you really want to make an impression, take a photo of them on stage and post on LinkedIn, saying what you liked best about their talk.
Every time you are in line — at lunch, a coffee break, Starbucks – introduce yourself to the person in front of you and the one behind you. Again, you will be surprised at the great people who are there.
Remember that conferences are some of the very best places to meet senior management. They are more open to being approached there than anywhere else. In fact, often one of their goals is to hear what people think. Take advantage of that!
Pro Tip #1: Business cards are so yesterday. At all the conferences I’ve attended this year, people used LinkedIn’s QR code to exchange contact information and connect on the platform. If you’ve never done this, here’s a video that shows you how.
Pro Tip #2: Be sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and ready to be seen — because people will look at your profile before your next conversation.
Share the event in real time. Post on LinkedIn multiple times each day from the event. Share the sessions you attend, interesting points from the speakers, and your takeaways. Look for fun photo ops and post them with relevant comments. Be sure to include the event hashtag.
Before you leave, chat with the conference organizers. Tell them what you liked about the conference, and if you have ideas for making it better next year, share them. Remember that the organizers probably know every company that attended, and have the potential to connect you with most of the influential people who were there. It’s well worth getting to know them.
AFTER THE CONFERENCE
Follow up within a week after you get home. Go through your new connections and send follow-up messages saying it was nice to meet them at the conference. And, skipping the hard sell, read their posts and like, comment, and share them.
Continue to drive conversations on social about the event. Use things that were discussed during the event as topics for posts. You can even write a blog about your experience and people you met at the conference. Include the event hashtag on these posts, too.
When you attend a trade show using this strategy, you will get 10x more out of it than if you just attend the sessions.
And if you’d like a boost to get started, download our free Event Social Promotion Plan PDF. The template not only walks you through strategizing for the conference or trade show but also offers samples of before-, during-, and after-show posts.
And, if you have tips for getting the most out of a show that you’d like to add to this list, post them in the comments.